Ukrainian refugees without family members in the UK will be able to apply for visas under a new scheme launching on Friday.
More than 150,000 Britons have registered their interest in taking in Ukrainians, and those who have someone to sponsor them will be able to apply when the first stage launches this week.
Detailed guidance is expected to be published on Friday, but for now, here is what we know about how the scheme will work and how to get involved.
– What is the scheme?
📣NEW - UK individuals, charities, community groups & businesses can now record their interest in supporting Ukrainians fleeing the war through our new Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Express an interest in becoming a sponsor now ➡ https://t.co/Tnh1cpJEle#StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/vbbINAz3XP
— Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (@luhc) March 14, 2022
Anyone with a room or home available for at least six months can offer it to a Ukrainian individual or a family, though those offering to host will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
The scheme will have two phases. The first – launching on Friday – will allow UK sponsors to nominate a named Ukrainian or family to stay with them in their home or in a separate property.
The Government is working with a number of charities and NGOs to work out the best way to match people who are not yet connected with Ukrainians.
There is no limit to how many people can apply.
– How will it work?
Ukrainians who have a sponsor will be able to start their visa application from Friday.
This will include a section about their sponsor which they will need to complete, using information provided by their sponsor.
Security checks will take place concerning both parties, the application will be assessed and a decision made on whether to grant the visa.
– What should I do if I am not yet in touch with a Ukrainian refugee?
People are being encouraged to register their interest on the website homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk if they have not done so already.
The Government will be in contact with people who have registered their interest with more information once this is available, which is expected to be soon.
If they do not wish to wait, people can try to find a person to sponsor by approaching charities or Ukrainian groups in their local area.
Ukrainians abroad who are not in touch with a sponsor are also being encouraged to contact charities.
– When will people start to arrive?
It is not clear how many people have already identified Ukrainians who they wish to sponsor.
But refugee minister Lord Richard Harrington told MPs on Wednesday he expects “thousands of people” to arrive next week.
Councils will be told if there are particular hotspot areas where a high number of people have registered their interest in becoming sponsors.
– What checks will take place and when?
Sponsors, all adults in their households and Ukrainians being sponsored will need to submit to security checks, which will take place when the visa application is being assessed.
Biometric checks will be made after refugees arrive in the UK to avoid delays.
Once the visa is approved, information will be passed to the local authority where the sponsoring individual lives.
It will then be up to the council to carry out the necessary checks, including on the suitability of the accommodation that is being offered.
However, Lord Harrington has warned that it may not be possible for all accommodation to be checked before people arrive.
This has been echoed by James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), who said councils will not be able to do everything they would like to do “up front”.
– What if a placement doesn’t work out?
It is understood there will be safeguards in place to ensure people are not left homeless if they are unable to stay with their sponsor for whatever reason.
On arrival, people will receive a welcome pack with details of how to access basic services and claim benefits, but also of who to contact in the case of an emergency or if something goes wrong while they are being hosted.
– Who is eligible?
Sponsors can be of any nationality and any immigration status as long as they have permission to be in the UK for at least six months and can offer accommodation for at least half a year.
People are eligible if they are a “Ukrainian national or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national, and were resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022”.
The scheme is open to adults and children within family units.
– What are people saying?
Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, has accused the Government of “unleashing chaos” through the scheme and warned that refugees could die before they are matched with a sponsor.
The charity runs Room for Refugees, the UK’s longest running refugee hosting programme which has been in place since 2002.
Ms Qureshi said it is giving the “illusion of people helping because they’re distracting from the fact that they haven’t lifted visa restrictions”.
And she said it could take “months and months of processing” to safely match people to appropriate homes.
The Refugee Council said it has several concerns about the scheme, specifically around red tape, safeguarding and resourcing.
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy, said it is concerned the scheme could be “too slow and complex” to help the most vulnerable, and said it favours those who already have a contact in the UK, who may not necessarily be the most at risk.
Councillor Jamieson, from the LGA, said councils will need to be given as much data as possible on who a visa has been issued to, such as their age, medical and educational needs, family make-up, and more clarity on the safeguarding and accommodation checks they will need.